Project Mode: Engage

On The Low Jam (13a), which shares the anchors with my current project, Killer Bees (13d). pc: Carlos Flores
On The Low Jam (13a), which shares the anchors with my current project, Killer Bees (13d).
pc: Carlos Flores

Huh. Too stretched out. Bad left hand, weight’s all on the right. Need to bump right closer, but can’t let go. Can’t move feet. There’s got to be a way…there has to be something…

I’m hanging suspended in mid-air, leaning back in my harness to stare up at the features on the horizontal rock, attempting to visualize some way to connect them with my body.

I’ve been here before. I have a habit of choosing to work routes that are at or above my limit, which means a long process of discovering the least effortful way possible to do them. Sometimes the work ends in success, sometimes I fail miserably. It means projects left undone, hanging around to haunt my thoughts, sequences executing themselves in memory before I fall asleep.

Yep, that's the whole thing. Seven bolts, plus chains.
Yep, that’s the whole thing. Seven bolts, plus chains.

Technically, I started working this particular route at the end of a successful day back in December. I was exhausted, and basically aided my way only about 4 bolts out, but that was enough to stimulate an emotional response that lodged the route in my brain. But, it was a full number grade harder than the route I’d sent earlier that day, so I put it on the back burner. Our bouldering season began before I sent anything else. And then I injured my left ring finger, ergo…no crimping. When we came back to the cave at the beginning of March, I chose to work a steep line with jugs and slopers. Once that was done, the finger was still feeling a bit dodgy, so I went shopping for another option that wouldn’t stress it too badly. The crimpy route I’d left undone in December was out of the question, as was the one Charlie had been encouraging me to try. It’s a long extension of a climb I did prior to switching to bouldering mode, and my beta on the approach pitch uses a wicked left hand crimp. I got on an epic new route Todd Perkins put up, to find that the first crux is a series of seriously bad crimps. And all the while, I felt the little 50-foot roof at the back of the cave smirking at me, daring me to come back to it. I’d known it would.

Some of my past route affairs have ended in success, others are still waiting to see if I call again. Their common denominator is that they’re all too hard for me, at least for a long time. I usually spend at least a week just touching the holds, brushing them obsessively, and aiding past the majority of the moves. When I finally start making and linking moves, new beta absorbs so much of my brain power that I quickly reach a point of shutdown and my movement becomes absurdly contrived and nonsensical. When that happens, I can turn even the easiest moves into cruxes. On this particular route, it took ten days of working it before I clipped the chains for the very first time.

It’s the same way I do the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. Chunks of answers come quickly, and then everything comes to a screeching halt and I can’t think of a single option with the proper number of letters, or all the clues are references to the ancient Greeks or those goofy riddles that don’t make any sense until you figure out the formula. If I put the puzzle down and come back to it the next day, another handful of answers pop up like they should have been obvious from the start. It’s like I’m only allowed so much brain RAM usage per day.

We took a detour south this past weekend to teach clinics and yoga classes at the Red Rock Rendezvous. My shoulders are grateful for the extended rest, and I’m ready to get back to work. Three weeks in and although progress has been slow, it’s been consistent. I get big joy out of the small victories. Every single move I find a way to do is a win, and each tiny win adds fuel to the fire of my motivation. Classic routes that are well within my ability are…classic, but my fix, the thing I crave madly, is a route that keeps me wondering whether I’ll ever be able to send it. Charlie has more faith in me than I do in myself. On our drive home from the crag our last day there he said, “You’re gonna do this thing.” Maybe, maybe not…but I’m certainly going to keep trying.



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